Issue 15 — Partnership

Timeless design is
sustainability for today


Photos by Daniela Trost Words by Oliver Herwig

Manuela Szewald, Creative and Managing Director of KAIA, waxes lyrical over the beauty of hand-crafted products and explains why her products are manufactured exclusively in Europe.

Artisanal perfection from European specialist manufacturers. Sound retro? In fact, it’s KAIA’s surprisingly up-to-date business model, which places origin and sustainability to the fore.

Sustainability is described as the heart of KAIA. Is that your mission?


Manuela Szewald

Mission, that’s a good word. I truly believe that we came together not to start a company, but because we have a common mission …



What is it?


Manuela Szewald

KAIA is so much more than a commercial enterprise. Our objective is far more profound. We seek to protect and maintain the cultural heritage of Euro­pean craftsmanship in a world do­minated by globalisation and mass-production. To do this, our studio works exclusively with small companies in Germany and Europe that still celebrate the art of craftsmanship. That’s our mission. Many family-led craft businesses, top-class manu­facturers, have already vanished. It’s very sad.



But isn’t that the way business works?


Manuela Szewald

Yes, that’s business, but what’s happening is still very sad.



That explains your design ­language. Your origins are …


Manuela Szewald

... in the Vienna Secession. The movement profoundly influ­enced our founder, Peter Straka, who trained as a metalworker in Vienna and studied industrial design there. Basically, we aim to protect and maintain the craftsmanship that was celebra­ted in the Wiener Werkstätte design workshop. This tradition is a prominent statement at KAIA.

We don’t start with the question of how to maximise cost-­effec­tiveness; instead, we ensure the design language and the craftsmanship are aligned. That means exploring what we can do with it in our studio, or in collaboration with external crafts­people. Then we blend the design ideas with cutting-edge technology such as gesture control.



And you combine traditional materials, too.


Manuela Szewald

Yes, that’s right, from ­papier-mâché to marble and glass. They are our basis for developing designs and projects, a fusion of light and state-of-the-art technology, but also with a certain romantic touch. We build close relationships, almost friendships, with our designers. Developing a product for a company as small as ours is an incredibly intensive time. We’re a small team of extremely talented individuals, all with our own personal strengths and areas of expertise. Every challenge, every task, every order knits us more tightly together.


marble pillars and a chandelier
"Traditional craftsmanship and timeless design"



An art installation shedding light on global insect decline,

in collaboration with artist Maximilian Prüfer and lighting

designer Sebastian Hepting. Handmade by KAIA

Weltmuseum Wien, Vienna

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